New Mitchell Hamline School of Law dean wants to do away with the bar exam

For many careers, you have to pass a test or licensing program to get a job in your field. One of them is law. But, the new president of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law thinks the licensing program to become an attorney - the bar exam - is keeping some smart people out of the profession.

He believes the bar exam no longer works and it’s preventing good, smart people from becoming attorneys. Most importantly, he says it's hurting communities that really need attorneys.

"I think it measures privilege as opposed to competency to be a lawyer," said Mitchell Hamline School of Law President Anthony Niedwiecki.

Niedwiecki is attempting to hammer down one of the oldest pillars of law. 

"I think the fight to stop the bar exam and doing something different with licensing is very important," he said.

As the new president and dean of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Niedwiecki proposed at his recent installation ceremony that Minnesota needs to eliminate the bar exam.

He feels the bar exam doesn't prepare people to be good attorneys.

"I think the things we do in law school - making sure students are actually working with real clients, working on cases, learning the law, being tested when they learn the law in school - those are the things that really need to be measured on whether or not somebody’s going to be a good attorney or not," he explained.

The requirement for admission to the Minnesota bar is actually codified in rule 4 of the Minnesota Court Rules. One must be at least 18 years old, have Juris Doctorate -- which is a law degree -- a "passing score on the written examination," and a scaled score of 85 or higher on the multistate professional responsibility exam.

Every state in the nation requires the bar exam, with the exception of Wisconsin. Oregon is now taking a second look as well, in part because leaders there are concerned about racial disparities.

"Over the last few decades, we’ve seen an increase in diversity at law schools, but we haven’t seen a corresponding increase in the diversity of the profession," he added. "The profession is predominately white."

The bar exam is seen by many as a barrier. The latest data from the American Bar Association shows 88 percent of white candidates passed the bar on the first attempt. Only 66 percent of Black candidates passed, 80 percent for Asian candidates, and 75 percent for Hispanic populations.

"Something’s happening during law school or after law school that’s keeping people from being lawyers," added Niedwiecki. "And that’s what we have to look at [because] I think the bar exam is one of those things."

Part of the issue is the money and time it takes to study for the bar. President Niedwiecki argues that too many students do not have the means to properly prepare for the exam. That’s why we see the failure rate among minorities.

He admits changing the rule is no easy task, which is why he’s trying to start the conversation.